The last time the Lakewood Township Committee met in person Donald Trump was president, recreational marijuana was illegal in New Jersey, and there were only 11 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the state.
That was March 5, 2020.
Since then, the governing body has only met virtually, with all meetings held via Zoom, requiring those who wish to speak to log on and wait their turn.
But some government experts warn that the lack of in-person discussions and contact can exclude some people, especially those without online or internet access.
“We still have a population that does not have good access to the Internet and could be stymied from participating,” said Marc Pfeiffer, a senior policy fellow at the Bloustein Local Government Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University. “Senior citizens who may not have access or not know how to Zoom. You do not want to cause a digital divide. If people do not have access, how are they able to participate in government?”
The U.S. Census reports that only 63% of Lakewood households had a broadband Internet subscription in 2021, the most recent data available, while 82% had a home computer. Statewide, 89% of households have a broadband internet subscription.
Pfeiffer said holding meetings online also risks technical problems, as well as online infiltration: “You should carefully consider the risks of meeting disruptions and make sure you balance the interests of people.”